A federal judge on Friday gave a green light to a lawsuit filed by 200 Democrats in Congress against President Donald Trump. The lawsuit claims that Trump has repeatedly and continuously violated the U.S. Constitution by doing business with foreign governments while in office.
The lawsuit is based on the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits presidents from taking payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. Trump still owns the business which has been the site of many foreign embassy events at its downtown D.C. hotel. In addition, many foreign government officials stay at his D.C. hotel in order to gain favor with the president.
Attorneys for the Democratic Members of Congress said that Friday’s ruling in their favor was a very significant victory for their side.
“By recognizing that Members of Congress have standing to sue, the court proved to all in America today that no one is above the law, not even the President,” wrote Elizabeth Wydra, of the Constitutional Accountability Center, in a statement.
When Trump became president he reportedly gave up day-to-day management of his businesses. He has residential, office, hotel and golf properties in the United States and throughout the world. He still owns these properties and he can withdraw money from them at any time. Therefore when foreign governments pay money to these businesses it is like they are paying the money directly to him.
The foreign emoluments clause prohibits payments from foreign governments, which it says cannot be accepted “without the consent of Congress.”
Trump did not ask Congress’s permission to take payments from foreign governments, which is a central point of the lawsuit. Trump‘s attorneys claim he doesn’t need to seek permission from Congress. They claim that the business transactions don’t meet the Founding Fathers’ definition of “emoluments.” They are business deals, they claim, not payoffs from foreign governments.
In his ruling, Federal Judge Emmet G. Sullivan agreed with the Democratic Members of Congress. He said that they have legal standing to sue and their case can proceed.
“The Clause requires the President to ask Congress before accepting a prohibited foreign emolument,” Sullivan wrote. If the allegations made by Democrats are true, he wrote, then “the President is accepting prohibited foreign emoluments without asking and without receiving a favorable reply from Congress.”
Trump is facing a separate emoluments suit filed by the attorneys general of Washington, D.C., and Maryland that is moving forward.
If Democrats win control of the U.S. House of Representatives after November’s elections it is widely thought that they will immediately launch an investigation into the president’s many claimed violations of the emoluments clause.